If He Ain’t Nakked, He Ain’t Trained!

Training a Dog to Come When Called: What Defines “Trained”?

The argument of whether or not a dog is *trained* if he is wearing an electronic collar comes up frequently among dog professionals. The debate rages that a *trained* dog shouldn’t need to be wearing an e-collar.

My first question typically is: “Trained according to who’s definition?”

“Trained” as defined by a competition obedience routine performed sans any training tools in the ring? Or perhaps “trained” to the degree of a Police K-9 capable of searching a building for hidden suspects. What about “trained” to remain on the dog bed while you have 25 people over for a holiday gathering?

What I might consider a trained dog, the high-scoring obedience competitor might deem unacceptable or sloppy performance, and the police handler says it is just “circus tricks” while the average pet owner may watch and exclaim I don’t need all that “fancy stuff” just a dog who “behaves” (of course the leads to a discussion of what behaved is!) 🙂

The definition of a trained dog lies in the mind of the dog owner/handler. We all have different ideas of what we expect our dogs to do and under what circumstance(s) they should remain accountable to those expectations.

Dog trainers seem to have equal (perhaps more significant) differences of opinion over how to teach a dog those expectations.

We have leashes, long lines, slip collars, prong collars, electronic collars, treats, clickers, harnesses, head halters, and other items used to guide a dog through the learning process. There is controversy over all of those tools, but the outcry is the loudest if an electronic collar is on a dog.

Even among some professional trainers, there is a lingering arrogance that if you have an e-collar on the dog, somehow you are cheating, and the dog isn’t really trained.

I say poppycock to that notion. And let me return the volley; “Well, if he has a leash on, he ain’t trained.” “If you’ve got treats in your pocket, he ain’t trained.” “If he does great in the ring but can’t stop jumping on visitors to your door, he ain’t trained.” “If he does a great building search but can’t lay down and be quiet in the squad car when you tell him to, he ain’t trained.” “If you need to raise your voice at your dog, he ain’t really trained.” “If you need to give him that look and that shake of the finger….”

Blah, blah, blah…we can all go on and on and round and round. But to what point?

It takes no particular skill to argue with one another over what is trained, what is cheating, and who does a better or more humane job of getting to their goal. The arguing part is easy.

How novel would it be to celebrate the idea that we all believe in training the dog? In the spirit of the season, maybe we can call a truce and focus on the most essential piece of equipment, the one that sits between our ears.

Does it really matter what tool we use if we do so with conscious endeavor? Does it matter if a dog is wearing a tool or if an owner/handler uses that tool to aid in maintaining their goals?

If someone is taking time to train their dog, I say, hurray!

Sure, there is common ground in saying if the dog is as good as gold with a training tool on (or with a situation well managed) versus completely off his rocker without the tool or continual management….well then, there is some real work to be done.

If the disparity in behavior is that big, there is a disconnect between using a tool to achieve a behavior versus using a tool to aid in building a relationship. That is where the emphasis should be, on the relationship.

If the relationship is in balance, the road traveled to get there doesn’t really matter. Electronic collar on or buck naked…the training will shine.


  • My dog sometimes gets out without her shock collar and it scares me to death. I always worry about her getting hurt or worse! I have found that A Shock Collar is a safe, effective and humane way to train your dog.

  • I wish more trainers would step down the ego, and step up to reality like the opinions expressed here. So often people ask me about good behavior without the tool, given that a variety of tools have been used in our training programs. Quite often, I answer, that with consistency and hard work, training can go way beyond the tool. I catch myself pointing out how rarely I even put a collar on my dogs, even when working in public. I smile knowing how much work it took me to get there, and then remind myself of all the times that I missed a training opportunity. Yeah, my dogs are trained, and yeah, they listen well, but no, my dogs are not perfect. So often I see a behavior start to grow, or my dogs take an opportunity to test a boundary. Had I been prepared with the proper tools, those mistakes would have been opportunities to improve, instead of opportunity for negative behaviors to take root. There is always truth in “we’re always training, even if we aren’t intending to train.”

    • “There is always truth in “we’re always training, even if we aren’t intending to train.”

      Perfect! That is the absolute truth. Thanks Jonathan.

  • A dog I trained and handled; which was certified in explosive detection, handler protection, crowd management and obedience knew the command to “come” when called. However, when an opportunity presented it self for a more exciting circumstance off leash he would choose to go with the more exciting novel opportunity. Examples of this was chasing a rabbit when off leash, running an open field which included crossing a vehicle road to get to it and running to the end of a building to find the hidden “bad guy” (decoy) during a building search scenario. Now, it’s great that he knows where the decoy was hidden from a long distance away and he was alerting on him. However, it was necessary for him to obey my commands to come and search rooms that he passed up prior to reaching the hidden decoy in case there was a second decoy hiding in a closer room. One never passes up rooms without checking them first.

    Until the use of the remote collar in training, it was impossible to call him off the exciting novel item to pursue. After just one week of training with the remote collar at the “just right setting” which is like a tap on the shoulder; the dog came every time during the above scenario even though he was “naked” during the scenario. This shows it is possible in a very short time period to communicate to the dog that he must overcome his drive to pursue, show self impulse control and obey an obedience command that could at some point mean life or death in the real working world.

  • Hurray for common sense! “trained dog” is in the eye of the BE-HOLDER [be it holding a “transmitter/remote”, “leash”, “treats”, “clicker”, etc. etc. etc.]. I tell current clients, as well as prospective clients, “A little training goes a long way”, and I too applaud those taking the time to teach their dogs to live in our [human] world. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and so is a well behaved (trained?) dog. When grandma comes to visit and that crazy, energetic pup sits instead of jumps . . . It’s a beautiful sight.

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